Former minister withdraws son from 'appalling' academy

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Indy Politics

A former Labour minister has withdrawn her 13-year-old son from a city academy in protest at its "appalling" standards of accommodation and teaching facilities.

Karen Buck, who resigned as Aviation minister in February, said she had been "torn apart" by a "personal dilemma" over withdrawing her son, Kosmo, from Paddington City Academy, but denied "hypocrisy".

Ms Buck is not the first Labour MP to face criticism over the choice of school. Others include Harriet Harman, a candidate for the deputy leadership, for allowing her child to go to a grammar school, Diane Abbott for choosing a private school for her son, and Tony and Cherie Blair for sending their children across the city to the London Oratory.

However, Ms Buck is seeking a place in another non-selective state secondary school. "I don't have an ideological objection to city academies. There is not a moral issue here. I am not asking for special treatment. My personal dilemma is I am trying to fight for the Paddington Academy which has a very challenging intake.

"They are the same kids that my son went to primary school with," she said yesterday. "I haven't been able to raise it in Parliament because I am absolutely ripped apart by the suggestion that there is a conflict of interest, which there is not."

Her husband, Barry, is a Labour councillor on Tory-dominated Westminster Council and a governor at the school. She is the first Labour MP to take a child out of a city academy, which is certain to raise questions about the drive led by Lord Adonis, a former No 10 policy adviser, to create 200 new academies.

She recently protested about the "appalling" transition conditions at the Paddington Academy, run by United Learning Trust, which manages nine of the 40 academies in operation.

Writing for Compass, the left-leaning think-tank, she said its failing predecessor, North Westminster Community School, a large three-site school on the edge of the West End, where only 25 per cent of pupils were getting five GCSEs, "limped to the end of its life with a multimillion-pound deficit".

She had hoped an extra £50m on new buildings and an injection of new energy would work. But as delays were caused in a dispute involving developers, hopes were dashed. Pupils were "decanted" into a seven-storey building where the lifts did not work, teachers struggled to teach information technology without enough computers, and radiators fell off the walls.

The problems at Paddington were investigated in a recent BBC Newsnight documentary. A reporter, Paul Mason, said: "Instead of a single term, students face a year coping with facilities that - according to documents I've seen - are substandard. Toilets were, allegedly, a health hazard; less than half the computers worked; rubbish and graffiti greeted teachers arriving to start the new venture."

Lord Adonis said: "The department is working closely with ULT to support the academy this year and to ensure that the academy's outstanding new buildings are completed in time for next summer."

Ms Buck decided that was too long to wait. But she believes long-term lessons have to be learned for the city academies now on the drawing board, including greater accountability over the way they are run.

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